Qualities of a Successful Dominant
By Polly Peachum
"The Problems Started After I Moved In"
When talking to submissive women about their lives and relationships, the most frequent cause of sorrow and difficulty that gets mentioned is the transition from a non-live-in D&S relationship to a full-time live-in situation. Relationships that seemed to work beautifully when limited to cyberspace hot-chat rooms, email, and the telephone suddenly become rocky and confused when two kinky individuals start to live together in a more intense and demanding sort of partnership. There are a number of reasons why this happens with such frequency.
Cyberspace teaches you that dominating and submitting are easy and are almost always fun. All you need to do to be a very popular and admired cyber-dominant is to know what pat phrases to say at what times. Even I, a person without any dominant desires, could, by assuming a false on-line persona, easily have a huge stable of cyber-submissives swooning over me and vying for my attention, simply because I know the right words to say. Submissives who have only recently discovered or decided to pursue their sexuality are, as a rule, so sexually and emotionally needy for control, any kind of control, that they fall right over if you assume a stern, forceful demeanor in their cyber-presence and issue the sorts of orders that you read about in S&M pornography. Then, in public, if you repeat all the standard tenents accepted by the S&M Scene community as the highest wisdom (again, it's very easy to learn what these are--you know, inanities like "safe, sane, and consensual" and "the best tops started out as bottoms"--and then rattle them off like a parrot) you'll get a rep as a wise, respected and (cough cough) "loving" dominant, a paragon of the Scene.
It's incredibly easy to dominate someone from a distance. It's so easy, in fact, that many men who are not genuinely dominant have discovered that if they put on this "act," they can have as many no-strings-attached cyber-slaves as they like. The problem comes when such "dominants" begin, as they often do, to believe their own propaganda and start to consider themselves to be superdoms, even though they've never had any experience in controlling anyone in real life. Such a superdork, er--excuse me--superdom, thinks that actually dominating someone in real life is identical to the virtually effortless fantasy play that he conducts on line or over the phone. So, considering himself to be eminently qualified, he orders some poor, lovestruck submissive to leave her home and to move in with him. And when both he and his gullible partner are forced to deal with the reality of dominance and submission, the disaster begins.
Actually to dominate someone who lives with you requires much, much more from you than the ability to create a sexy fantasy on a computer screen or to assume a stern tone or to issue commands over the phone or in email to an always compliant and willing part-time submissive who spends the majority of her largely independent life without you. Very few people actually have what it takes to be successful dominants, and real dominants are actually quite rare, as many more people have the desire to dominate someone sadomasochistically than have the ability to do it well. To dominate someone full-time and in person requires a lot of very hard work on the dominant's part; a successful dominant does this hard work because the rewards, for him, are worth it. It also requires information, even wisdom, about what both dominant and submissive must do to make this sort of relationship work that at present is unavailable in the fantasy-laden S&M Scene community and its written materials.
As an example, to dominate a deep and needy submissive successfully (in other words, in a way that ensures that both of you are happy and fulfilled)--even a highly motivated, sincere, and obedient submissive--requires an ability to cope with numerous emotional freakouts, resistances, and confusions in one's submissive partner, especially during the first few live-in years of the relationship. Even the deepest submissive has tremendous difficulties--at first--with learning to obey and to submit, because learning to be a good submissive is not a matter of personality or willpower (although these things help). It's not a matter of being "submissive enough." It's entirely a matter of training and experience. The most willing and compliant submissive isn't born knowing instinctively how to serve or how to put her master's needs first. In fact, she's taught from childhood to be independent and willful. Overcoming a lifetime of cultural conditioning takes lots of time; and nothing in the easy fantasy play that people do on line or over the telephone prepares them for the difficulties of actual, real-life daily obedience. The only way a submissive learns to be a good submissive is through extensive practice, through making mistakes and learning from them, through talking over what goes wrong with a knowledgeable and patient dominant, and through extensive and informed assistance from her dominant partner.
The early "hell" years of a live-in D&S relationship require, in every case that I have seen, extensive patience and emotional self-control from a dominant. Such patience and emotional self-control are signs of maturity, of an adult who's actually "grown up" and who is truly capable of taking responsibility for someone else's life. When your submissive is screaming and raging at you for "forcing" her to get up early and make your morning coffee, calling you hurtful, inconsiderate, abusive, it's awfully hard if you've had no actual successful experience as a dominant, or if you are emotionally immature, not to be affected by this, even hurt by it, and not to lash back at her. But "getting back" at a resistant or upset submissive who's wounded you by your withdrawing from her physically or emotionally or through angry punishment or emotional rages of your own will simply ensure that your relationship quickly becomes conventional in terms of power. Your submissive learns that you can't control yourself, that you have no clue about how to deal with her passive-aggressive or manipulative attempts at resisting you, or that you are a coward who runs away from confrontation. In other words, she learns that, instead of being the great and wonderful dominant that you appeared to be on line, you're really just an angry, scared, or wounded little child who is no more emotionally mature than she.
As will become evident to anyone who attempts a live-in power-exchange relationship for a significant length of time, D&S is, at times, hard, gruelingly hard work and requires a rare individual as a dominant: someone whose ability and actions actually match the claims he makes for him- or herself, and someone who considers the hard work worth it because of the things he gets out of the relationship.
There are some minimum attributes which any dominant needs in order to make a real power-exchange relationship work. These are qualities which every submissive person must look for in the dominant when they meet. Many self-proclaimed dominants say that they have these extraordinary qualities; just the claim alone means nothing. The dominant must be able to demonstrate, to show you, that he actually has these attributes. Learning whether your dominant meets these basic requirements takes time: submissives who rush into absolute or even partial live-in power-exchange relationships without taking the time to determine the quality of the person they are agreeing to submit to often pay dearly for it later.
Below are descriptions of some of the minimum qualifications which a dominant who hopes to be successful in a power-exchange relationship must have. It is not meant to be complete, just to provide you with some of the more important qualities to look for in a potential dominant partner:
If you can't control yourself--your vices, your emotions, your tendency to act out--you cannot control another person. You are too weak and self-indulgent to control another. As mentioned above, all submissives, even the best, resist control at times. Dealing with that resistance in a way that encourages good behavior in the submissive and helps to train her to be a better submissive and a happier person means realizing from the start that your submissive's actions, however you may dislike them, are not about you. They are, rather, about her problems with submitting. Learning not to respond narcissistically--i.e., with anger, personal affront, hurt, or defensiveness--when she behaves in a resisting or manipulative way, is part of self-control. Instead of overreacting, a self-controlled dominant will rationally and over time devise workable strategies based on his intimate knowledge of his submissive that discourage the behavior and attitudes he dislikes.
Stubborness and Emotional Resilience
People who only imagine that they are dominants and who are suddenly thrust into the position of having to control a real human being face-to-face, often ask a very revealing question: when faced with the initial difficulties of training a submissive and overcoming the onslaught of her confusion or resistance, a situation which requires so much self-control and maturity on their part, they often wonder what it is that the dominant gets out of the relationship besides hard work and grief. An actual dominant never wonders this in any serious sense. He knows what he wants to get out of a power-exchange relationship, and he makes sure, despite the difficulties, that he gets it. A dominants must actually be dominant--must actually have a strong enough will to get his needs met, to insist that he get what he wants out of the relationship. In addition, to someone who is genuinely dominant, overcoming the submissive's resistance in a way that enhances the relationship for both of them is something that, despite his dislike of the actual resistance, he relishes, as in the long run it enhances his control.
Owning someone for life is a very serious endeavor. When you control another person and can do anything to her that you want to, you have a great responsibility toward her. Some people shallowly liken a dominant's responsibility to that of owning a pet, but it's much more of a duty than that. In terms of the seriousness with which the dominant must take his charge, it's more like having a child. You control this person absolutely, and, assuming that your love your slave, you must make sure that the things that you do--or don't do--are not harmful or damaging to your charge. You have to think first, and carefully, before you speak out in anger. You have to consider how each action you take or decision you make affects your submissive as well as yourself. You have to anticipate how your sub will react to certain things before you commit to them. You're steering the ship. You're the only one in charge. If you truly realize that, then you also know that when things screw up and don't work out, it is not the fault of the person who is helpless before you and who must follow your orders; it is your responsibility, and yours alone.
A dominant has to be grown up enough to take the responsibility when things go wrong. A child in an adult's body, on the other hand, blames every bad thing or misfortune that befalls him on others. Nothing is ever his responsibility. It's always someone else who has screwed up. A mature person also has patience and a willingness to wait a long time, if necessary, for things to work out. Some things in power-exchange take a very long time to achieve, and a dominant, especially, has to have the determination and fortitude to wait for these things without giving up or losing heart. A mature person is able to keep perspective: he doesn't see every little blow up or emotional difficulty from his submissive as a sign that the relationship isn't working or as some symptom of the fact that his submissive doesn't love him. A mature dominant also knows how to walk the very fine line between not letting his submissive partner's emotional difficulties rule him on the one hand and becoming emotionally distant from the submissive on the other. A mature person tends to have a calm, even personality that isn't rocked by every little incident that life throws at him. A mature dominant can be looked up to by his submissive partner, leaned on, seen as a pillar of strength and support--at all times, not just when he finds it fun or easy to play that role. A mature dominant has a good understanding of human nature from having encountered its many forms and knows, in general, what works and what doesn't work when dealing with a submissive. He doesn't have to learn all of this by experimenting on you.
This may be the most important quality that a dominant must have. Someone who is completely dependent upon another person and who exists only to please that person has to know that her dominant is reliable and consistent--and especially that he is capable of keeping his word. A dominant isn't trustworthy just because he says he is. He's trustworthy when he proves to you, with consistent actions over a long period of time, that he does what he says he is going to do and when he says he will do it, that he tells you the truth and doesn't deceive you, that you can come to him with your problems, whatever those problems may be, and rely on him to lend a sympathetic, loving ear and not to reject you just because those problems make him feel insecure, confused, or upset.
Experience and Knowledge
It helps immensely if a dominant knows what he is doing--knows which activities are safe and which put a submissive in danger physically or psychologically, understands how to get to know his submissive--to delve deeply into her personality so that he can better control her, knows how to keep her serving him happily and enthusiastically, and knows how actually to control someone. Most people who want to be dominants don't have the slightest idea of how to do the any of this. They may have had a little success at doing fantasy scenes on the computer, and they think this childish play, which anyone--even a submissive like myself--could learn to do convincingly with a couple of day's practice makes them experienced and worldly dominants. Or they may learn from the terrible S&M advice and ettiquite books on the market that there are "training methods" or formulae that work universally with all submissives (nothing is further from the truth). Or they may have gone to a couple of play parties, seen the performances put on by individuals who are only slightly less ignornant than themselves (although these playes will usually do everything within their power to convince you they are S&M experts) and concluded that really controlling someone closely resembles these staged and artificial scenes done mostly to impress an audience with how skilled or cool you are. Learning how to control someone, how to overcome her resistances (every submissive who experiences real, permanent dominance resists), how to handle each new situation that comes up takes a great deal of knowledge or experience, and there's an art to it as well. It's complex, as each individual situation requires a different, noncanned or stereotyped response. Most people in the Scene, most people who call themselves dominants and promote themselves as wise S&M gurus, know nothing about any of this. They're fumbling around in the dark. A dominant either learns this kind of thing from many, many years in the school of hard knocks or from learning from another dominant who already has this knowledge.
It's a sad fact that many people who call themselves dominants these days have absolutely no idea of what to do with a submissive once they are alone in the same room with one. As long as they can bluster and preen and pretend on line or at a distance or for a short period of time they do fine. But once they actually have a real person to deal with 24 hours a day, they quickly run out of ideas. Most of these people have none of the essential qualities described above, and they don't really want any of the difficulties or hassles that controlling someone always involves. They want to be dominant entirely for the ego boost, or because they believe that it's an easy way to get girls to do what you want them to, or because it all sounds so much funner and easier than a conventional relationship. They are not control freaks. They are not truly dominant. If they were, they'd accept the hassles and difficulties involved with control, as they'd relish that control so much that they would be willing to deal with any problems it brings. Most self-styled dominants, however, do not really want to control another's life, they do not want to own a slave (although they often believe that they do until they find one), and when confronted with the realities of ownership, they run away, abandoning their responsibilities. The most common form of running away, of abdicating the dominant's responsibility, is to blame all the relationship problems on the submissive, pretending that she is ultimately the responsible one. This is the most common situation that Jon and I hear about from the many submissive people who write us to ask for advice.